The Name Game: New Titles for Administrative Assistants
By Rocky White, CEO, The SyN Learning Institute
Since the term “secretary” went out of favor in the 1970s, organizations have been trying to find the right job title to describe an increasingly expansive role. Most widely used now is “administrative assistant,” but in today’s high-tech and customer-focused marketplace, the titles are changing again.
With more and more assistants managing office software, large events and creative communications efforts, words like director, coordinator, specialist and lead are being paired with administrative to convey the reality of decision-making power and expertise. But, what’s in a name? Didn’t William Shakespeare teach us “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”? Bill has a point everywhere but in business. Job titles do matter, and much time and thought should go into them in order to recruit, retain and engage the best candidates and employees. Inside Higher Ed’s online publication, Technology and Learning.com recently took a look at the problem with the administrative job title:
“‘Administrative’ is too narrow a term for colleagues who daily juggle project planning, communications, scheduling, finances and logistics. ‘Assistant’ is not well suited to convey the collaborative nature of most office structures. We all need to constantly be assisting each other if we are to be effective and productive,”’ says Joshua Kim in his Technology and Learning blog article “The Changing Roles of Academic Administrative Assistants.”
The same issues are being discussed in the technology sector where the executive assistant position is considered not only a premiere entry point for IT graduates but also a long-term career choice for those seeking a more creative role in the industry. USA Today’s online magazine OZY recently declared “Executive Assistant is the New Power Job.” The article outlines several IT professionals choosing office support jobs over those in product development or design.
“There’s definitely a stigma about the title,” says 32-year-old Shana Larson, one of four EAs at Pinterest, the San Francisco visual discovery company. But the title didn’t stop Larson, a University of California at Santa Barbara grad who also holds a master’s in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California. She went from planning 1,000-person Los Angeles events to joining the support team at Google. “The initial transition was scary,” she says, but now, nearly two years into her time at Pinterest and over four years into being an EA, she’s “fairly compensated” and gets exposure to many moving parts of a business. For her, this is a long-term career replete with growth opportunities.
Alison Brown, who runs a recruiting firm focused on administrative support, says connections are one reason young people are choosing administrative professional jobs but it’s “also about the story young people can later tell in their career, of being able to see something go from zero to full speed.” Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt offered similar advice to a young recruit when she was waffling over whether to join the then-fledgling search engine company as an administrative assistant: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” (Forbes, “Harvard Biz Grads Find a Rocket Ship,” May 24, 2012.)
The career trajectory for office professionals is vast. Often, talent is discovered in a receptionist or generalist who is then promoted to administrative coordinator or executive assistant. Companies recognize that when they promote from within, they gain a team player with a base of knowledge not found in an outside recruit. The SyN Learning Institute developed a comprehensive certification class to help organizations invest in essential office employees, developing such talent from within. Leading subject-matter experts researched, wrote and produced eight comprehensive modules or full-day classes
covering topics such as leadership, professionalism, team building, management skills, business writing, communication skills, lifelong learning and interpersonal skills. The Office Professional Certificate of Excellence is available to those who complete five or more of the courses. This course is designed to prepare your essential office employees for new challenges and expanded job descriptions. It was one of the first certification courses developed at SyN because of the importance and ever-changing nature of the administrative professional job.
No matter if the title your organization uses is secretary, administrative assistant or executive support, SyN is ready to partner with your key office professionals, ensuring they are ready to meet the real challenges of today and tomorrow.